"Maybe I really will be a famous author one day…" or Dear Mr. Henshaw

I’m kind of unsure what to think of this book. I remember NOT liking it when I read it in fourth grade. I only read it because I was all kinds of into the Ramona books and I decided to try something else by Beverly Cleary. So I picked up Dear Mr. Henshaw, and I read it and I thought, “Oh my god, how boring!”

It’s not though. Boring, that is. It’s actually a sweet little story told entirely in letter form from a lonely isolated boy to his favorite author, Boyd Henshaw. The boy, Leigh Botts, has just moved with his mother after his parents divorce. His dad is a cross-country trucker and was rarely home to begin with. Still, the divorce is upsetting to Leigh, who now truly realizes how infrequently he sees his father.

Leigh loves to read and begins corresponding (for a school project) with Boyd Henshaw, the author of his favorite book, Ways to Amuse a Dog. Mr. Henshaw writes back, but we never see those letters. We only really get to see Leigh’s response to them. Leigh goes back and forth, as kids will, between being friendly and overly awed by Mr. Henshaw, to being a little annoyed with the things Mr. Henshaw writes to him.

Mr. Henshaw encourages Leigh to keep a diary, so Leigh does, (and names the diary Mr. Henshaw). Leigh deals with loneliness at a new school, someone stealing good food from his lunch (his mother is a caterer and makes awesome lunches), never seeing or hearing from his irresponsible father, and trying to write a story for a school writing contest. As Leigh continues to write, we are able to see how the writing in his diary and to his letters to Mr. Henshaw matures.

At the end of the book, Leigh is unable to come up with a story for the contest, so he writes about one time he went on a trip with his truck driving father. They were driving grapes to wine-making country and bonded in his dad’s rig. Leigh ends up with an honorable mention and gets to meet a famous author. The author finds out who he is, and says that Leigh’s story was her favorite of the bunch. Also, she knows Mr. Henshaw.

  • Nothing to snark.
  • While the story line of a boy dealing with his parents divorce and his absentee father is definitely the main plot of the book, it takes you a while to realize it. In Leigh’s first few letters, the fact that his dad isn’t there anymore is slipped in, barely noticeable. I love the subtlety of this. I can’t relate, because my parents are still married, but it rings true to me that while dad leaving can create havoc on a kids’ life. He still has other things going on and other things to do and think about.
  • Leigh and his mother have a very sweet relationship. She’s a good hard-working woman. And despite the fact that we get the reasons behind her divorce, she absolutely refuses to say anything bad about her ex-husband to Leigh. Even trying to make his absenteeism into a positive… “He loves life on the road.”
  • Probably this is the type of book that grown ups actually like better than kids.
  • Ah, and the open-ended ending. No parents getting back together. No dad making good on empty promises. Just a kid seeing his dad’s promises as just that…empty. Earlier in the book, Leigh overheard another kid at his dad’s house when he called. We never find out who the kid is, or who his mother is.
  • I kind of like that we never get to see Mr. Henshaw’s letters. I like that Leigh is the sole narrator in this type of story.
  • Weird, but I’m also in the middle of reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Both books written entirely in letter form.
  • Will this book hold up in the age of email? I want to hear from Elementary School teachers here!
  • I’m going to do some more Beverly Cleary, since it appears that Jesus Beezus is no longer being updated.
  • Hopefully I’ll get back to snark next week. Oh My god, I found a BSC book told from Logan’s POV!!!! I was like, What the fuck? I had no idea!
  • Sorry for the super-short post. Grady is about to wake from his nap. And he’s been GRUMPY today.

About nikkihb

Wife. Mother. Reader. Blogger.
This entry was posted in abandoned kids, Beverly Cleary. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to "Maybe I really will be a famous author one day…" or Dear Mr. Henshaw

  1. Liz says:

    My sister would love to read this!

  2. Sadako says:

    I think I remember this! Like…YEARS ago. I'm not sure I remember the book itself but the cover and title, yes. Sounds sweet. I should try to actually read. Or reread? I don't even know!

  3. Awwww, I'm so glad you recapped this book! I read it in the fourth grade and didn't like it, then reread it in the sixth and remember thinking it was pretty dang good, but I couldn't place any specifics until you mentioned the detail about his mom being a caterer. Then this whole wonderful book tumbled back into my memory!Great post about a wonderful book. 🙂

  4. Anonymous says:

    Well it DID win a Newbery. The sequel, "Strider," is also excellent.

  5. Emily says:

    This book was completely unlike most of the books I read as a kid, but I do remember liking it. I think I might have to see if my library has a copy.

  6. Kathryn says:

    Like you, Nikki, I only read the Ramona books when I was a kid. I didn't read "Dear Mr Henshaw" and "Strider" until I was a teen, and while I liked them a lot as a teen whose parents divorced at Leigh's age… I don't think I would have liked them as much when I was young. That's the same way I felt about 'Winnie the Pooh' and 'House at Pooh Corner' – they were sweet to read as an older person, but I would have found them boring when I was a kid.

  7. Janna says:

    I loved this when I read it in 2nd or 3rd grade. One of my favorite Beverly Cleary books.

  8. Katie Fries says:

    I remember not being very impressed by this book as a kid either; I read it in the second grade only because I had gone through all the Ramona books–in hindsight it sounds like second grade is a little young to really "get" this book. I never reread it because I didn't care for it back then, but it sounds like it does merit a second read. And your poll! My favorite Ramona book is Ramona Forever but Beezus and Ramona may be my favorite book on that list. I always think of that one as a Beezus book though. I wish she'd written more books from Beezus' perspective, since we usually only see her through Henry and Ramona's eyes.

  9. nikki says:

    Everyone who is considering re-reading this: Do it! It's a short read (it took me just over an hour to finish) so even if you don't love it, no harm no foul. Katie Fries- Ramona Forever and Beezus and Ramona are also my two faves. Though you're right, B&R is more of a Beezus book. Ramona and her Father is particularly sweet though, Nosmo King and all that 🙂

  10. Kathryn says:

    I have Ramona Forever on CD (read by Stockard Channing!) in my car, and I listen to it entirely too often 🙂

  11. KT says:

    Oh, Ramona and Her Father was my favorite then; Ramona Forever may be my favorite now.Dear Mr. Henshaw was a disappointment then (I was 8 when it came out, I think) compared to the more exciting Ramona books, but it's just lovely now.Great blog, btw – keep it up!

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